Yep, that's right, I'm back with another article filled with super old football games that I'm sure nobody wants to play! Last year, I looked at the football games on the Saturn and this year I'm going to look at the Sega CD. There are only five games we're going to look at, but given the Sega CD's proclivity for FMV-based gameplay, there will be some oddities along the way. Let's get to it!
Bill Walsh College Football
First up we have Bill Walsh College Football, which also happens to be the only game on our list that features the iconic EA Sports logo. This game was released in 1993 and is often considered to be the first game in the NCAA Football series that EA Sports produced for many years. This game was released around the same time as Madden NFL '94 and it looks, feels, and plays in a very similar manner.
In addition to a standard Exhibition mode, the game also offers a 16-team Playoff Mode. There are over 20 teams to choose from, plus a variety of "all-time" historical teams. Unfortunately, they weren't able to license all of the universities, so they had to use nicknames instead. For example, State College instead of Penn State and Tallahassee instead of Florida State. Of course, with this being a college sports game, there aren't any player names nor did I see any school logos or mascots.
As far as the actual football gameplay goes, this one does a great job considering its age. I thought it was a really fun football game for 1993 and the Sega CD looks and sounds better than its Sega Genesis counterpart. The graphics and frame rate are both solid for the era and the game controls well enough that you can pick up and play with ease. I did find the passing system a little difficult at first since it shows each of your receivers in a small window that takes up a good chunk of the screen. It makes it difficult to properly assess your options and that becomes a problem when you have to make a split second decision before being smashed into the ground.
I think one area where this game shines compared to the Genesis version is the music and sound. Everything just sounds so much more crisp and powerful here. This game was released before TV-style presentations were commonplace in sports games, so the sound improvements really seemed to helped bolster the experience.
Speaking of presentation, this one does have some basic "studio" segments before and after the game, as well as during halftime. It's all very basic and laughable by today's standards, but it's still a nice touch. The Sega CD version also lets you watch some FMV clips of Bill Walsh talking about various football-related topics.
Bill Walsh College Football isn't a perfect game by any means, but it's my favorite football game on the Sega CD. If you enjoy the Madden games from this era, this one is definitely worth a look.
ESPN Sunday Night NFL
Next up we have ESPN Sunday Night NFL, which as you may have guessed, features the ESPN brand prominently displayed throughout. With some old ESPN music, SportsCenter logo, and FMVs featuring Chris Berman and Mike Patrick, this game does a great job of building up a TV-style presentation considering it was released in 1994. I didn't own a Sega CD back then, but I'm sure I would've been blown away by this level of presentation compared to the 8 and 16-bit games I was playing around the same time. Sure, it's all really limited and ultimately inconsequential to the actual football gameplay, but it was such a neat concept in the early days.
The game offers up the standard Exhibition, Season, and Playoff modes and features all of the NFL teams, but, unfortunately, not the player names due to licensing constraints. The on-field action is okay, but it's not quite as polished as the Madden games from the era or Bill Walsh College Football. The engine runs well though and it's a perfectly playable football game, but it's nothing special.
It's somewhat ironic that despite the standard football gameplay, ESPN Sunday Night NFL did try out a couple of different ideas that I didn't really care for. First is the confusing play selection screen. When selecting a play, the team on offense has NINE different plays showing at once, whereas the the team on defense only has three. For offense, you first press A, B, or C to select a row, then you press A, B, or C again to select the column and that will select a category. Then a new set of nine options are displayed and you repeat the process to select the actual play you want to run. While it's kind of nice to have that many plays on the screen at once if you want to compare them, it just seemed cumbersome to navigate through so many options and it just felt off. I suppose you'd get used to it after a while, but I would've much preferred a more standard approach.
The other thing that bugged me was the kicking mechanics. In pretty much every football game I've ever played, you press a button for the kick power and maybe aim an arrow for the direction. This game sort of does that, but for aiming, it's another power meter thing and, well, I could never manage to use it properly. Admittedly, I should've probably read the instruction manual before playing, but still, it seemed like an odd way to handle kicking.
In any case, ESPN Sunday Night NFL is an alright football game. It's very average and aside from the nifty presentation style, it doesn't do anything special enough to separate itself from the pack.
Joe Montana's NFL Football
The next game on our list features a familiar face for this era of gaming: Joe Montana's NFL Football. Joe Montana was synonymous with Sega football back in the late '80s and early '90s, so surely the cutting edge technology afforded by the Sega CD would mean an even better game of football, right? Well, the short answer is "no, no it wouldn't."
The game opens up with a short FMV clip and some music that showcases the CD format, but once you're on the field, the game feels so...basic. You can optionally turn on commentary, but it's incredibly generic and repetitive, so I preferred leaving it off. Aside from that, there's basically no TV-style presentation whatsoever. The sound effects are okay, but they seem to be lacking a certain something. And they're completely non-existent on the play selection screen, which just felt strange.
The gameplay itself is pretty average, but hey, it's a functional football game, at least! The controls work well enough, but the frame rate is a bit choppy. It was especially noticeable when changing receivers and the camera would have to swing over to the other side of the field.
I had similar thoughts on NFL '97 in my Saturn article, but it's strange to me that the Sega Sports logo is proudly placed on the front of a game that pales in comparison to other games on the Sega CD. It's not a complete disaster, but there are much better football games to play on the Sega CD and its direct competitors.
NFL's Greatest: San Francisco vs Dallas 1978-1993
If you're tired of the same 'ol sort of football gameplay, then this next one might pique your interest. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good game or anything. NFL's Greatest: San Francisco vs Dallas 1978-1993 is a mouthful of a name, but it offers up some extremely limited gameplay.
Instead of directly controlling the players, you're limited to just play selection. After selecting one, a short FMV clip will play that shows what happened. Considering play-calling was available in basically every other football game from the era, the game relies heavily on the FMV to justify the lack of direct control. And as with most FMV games, that's ultimately the biggest knock on the game's replay value as there just isn't much to see once you've played a game or two.
As the title implies, you can only play as the 49ers or the Cowboys. The game does reference actual players like Steve Young and Troy Aikman, but the FMV clips are incredibly repetitive and not particularly exciting, so it gets old pretty quick.
There isn't a season mode or anything, but the game does have 10 special scenarios, such as end of game situations, so there's at least a little bit of extra content for those that dig the gameplay. I will admit there's some fun to be had in this strange take on the genre for at least a game, but it's not something I plan to revisit anytime soon. I'm not exactly well-versed in football strategy, but I was able to bungle my way through to a narrow victory and I had my fill. It's an interesting curiosity that's exclusive to the Sega CD though and might be worth a quick look for fans of FMV, but everyone else can probably steer clear.
NFL Football Trivia Challenge
The last game we're going to look at it is also the most unique football game for the Sega CD. In fact, it's a bit of a stretch to call it a "football" game, even compared to the previous title we looked at. Instead of directly controlling the action, NFL Football Trivia Challenge has you, umm...answering trivia questions. Yeah, it's a rather strange concept.
The game is somewhat structured like an actual football game. By this I mean you select a team and attempt to march down the field to score a touchdown or kick a field goal. Each down plays out in the form of a question and if you answer correctly, you'll advance the ball a certain amount based on how long you took to answer. If you advance enough, you'll get a first down, otherwise you might need to punt or go for it on fourth down. You can even call a timeout if you need more time to answer the question. There are four quarters just like in actual football and, well, that's about it. Oh and I should also mention that this game requires two players and it's not possible to play against a computer opponent.
I'm barely even a casual fan when it comes to football since I only really watch one game each year and it's the Super Bowl. That, coupled with the fact that this is a 30 year old game meant that I had to guess on the vast majority of the questions thrown at me. To some degree, this game is a bit more playable than other football games from the era since you don't have to worry about clunky controls, a sluggish frame rate, or any of the other common detractors. Of course, you'd probably need to be a huge football fan to get any sort of mileage out of this one, but much like NFL's Greatest, it's an interesting curiosity on the Sega CD.
And there you have it, all five football games released for the Sega CD. They're a bit of an odd bunch with a couple of games that deviate heavily from the norm for sports games. Bill Walsh College Football is a reasonably fun game, but the rest of the options are really tough sells. NFL's Greatest and NFL Football Trivia Challenge are interesting footnotes in the Sega CD library, but both are difficult to recommend for someone looking to play a retro football game. ESPN Sunday Night NFL is okay-ish, but there are plenty of better options on other platforms. Only the most die-hard retro football fan will likely find any enjoyment out of Joe Montana's NFL Football and it lags behind the competition by a wide margin.
Anyways, I'm going to wrap this up since I'm sure you can't wait to dust off your Sega CD and pop one of these bad boys in!